Dade Commission creates new Economic Development Czar job, starts process for Nov. TSPLOST referendu

In addition to embarking on plans to build a dam and reservoir on Lookout Creek (see previous article), the Dade County Commission at its June 1 meeting also approved funds and an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to hire a full-time economic development director to coordinate efforts in that area among the county, the city of Trenton, the Dade Chamber of Commerce and the county Industrial Development Authority (IDA).

IDA already has such an employee: its executive director, Peter Cervelli (right). But Dade County Clerk Don Townsend said that the Chamber, the county and the city also make economic development efforts and the idea now is to centralize those. “What we’re trying to do is combine all of them together in one person,” said Townsend after the meeting.

The county was already paying $10,000 to the Chamber for economic development, said Townsend, and will now kick in $15,000 more. (The Chamber, he said, will presumably now channel the $10K back to the county.) IDA will contribute $30,000, he said, and: “I think the city is putting in $15- or $20,000.”

Presumably all this is to entice the trusted Cervelli, whose name means “brains” in Italian, to work full-time. Cervelli has manned the part-time helm at IDA since early 2013 and before that did economic development work for eight years for Trenton as the town’s Better Hometown Manager, until he was abruptly ousted by the city commission under former Mayor Anthony Emanuel in 2012.

Clerk Townsend said, though, that the new county job will not necessarily be handed to Cervelli but will be advertised so that other candidates may apply.

“This is going to be an experimental thing,” said County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley of the new position. “We’re going to try it for like two years.”

The commission approved yet another IGA for yet another ambitious move: getting a public referendum for a new transportation local option sales tax (TSPLOST) on the ballot for November. Under its proposed agreement with Trenton, the proposed T-SPLOST will go before Dade voters in a special county election combined with the regular city elections on Nov. 7. If Dade says yes in November, a proposed extra cent of sales tax money could be collected beginning April 1, 2018.

“It would be a blessing,” said Commissioner Rumley, who championed a similar transportation sales tax proposed statewide in 2012. A referendum on that tax failed regionally, but Dade voted yes by 51 percent. Now Georgia counties are allowed to pass independently up to a .075 cent local option tax for transportation projects, up to 1 cent if acting in unison with their municipalities. According to the Dade/Trenton IGA approved by the county on Thursday, the TSPLOST would be 1 cent, Dade County receiving .075 and Trenton the remaining .025.

Rumley reminded all of the long list of transportation projects the county and city have dreamed of for years: sidewalks from the high school up Highway 136 to Canyon Park Estates and down to Highway 11; improvements and repairs on Hale’s Gap, Burkhalter Gap and Cloverdale; and a long-coveted north Trenton exit on I-59. “This would make it a reality,” he said.

Don Townsend said that based on a negative 5 percent growth rate (which he said was dismally realistic based on recent county experience), the new TSPLOST was projected to bring in $9,084,000, of which the county’s portion would be $6,813,000. “It would definitely get us closer to attaining the Comprehensive Plan,” he said.

​Speaking of which, Brice Wood (left) of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission was at the meeting to present the commission for adoption the recently completed Trenton-Dade County Joint Comprehensive Plan 10-Year Update. County, city and community leaders and volunteers had brainstormed for months to come up with directions and goals for the area, and Georgia had recently given its blessings to the plan. The commission duly adopted the plan, Commissioner Rumley explaining that making such a plan was necessary for ensuring that Dade and Trenton remain eligible for state and federal grants and programs.

And on that subject, Rumley announced that Dade had just been obliged to stop burning brush to comply with state environmental regulations. “We’re going to have a revenue drop,” he said, explaining the county has for years burned not just its own brush but some for tree services as well, charging a fee for it. Rumley said the city of Trenton will also feel the pinch; it offers free brush pickup and must now figure out what to do with it. Rumley said it’s possible to hire commercial operations to chip the brush for mulch but cost was a factor.

Rumley also reported that he’d once more been wrestling with Norfolk Southern about long railway crossing blockages. “We’ve got issues again,” he said. Stopped trains have been blocking Dade crossings for three and four hours, he said, obstructing traffic and keeping workers on second shift from getting home. “It would be a big deal if somebody had a heart attack and died,” he said.

He said the rail company’s “excuse” was that it had recently laid off 75 workers in its Chattanooga yard. “They’re just trying to get organized,” he said.

In other business, the commission also altered its employee handbook to make its sick-time policy consistent with Georgia Kin Care legislation and approved $5137.13 for a new convection oven for the county jail. Additionally, it agreed to designate a 2005 and 2007 Crown Victoria car as surplus and list them for online auction.

Clerk Townsend said the county’s fiscal year 2018 budget was close to completion and announced a June 15 public hearing on it, set for 5 p.m. in the Administrative building.

The commissioners also discussed spending $30,000 as the county’s share in a fire truck it would buy in conjunction with the Georgia Forestry Commission office. The county would own the vehicle but it would be operated by GFC, which arrangement would allow the full-time GFC employees to work some Dade fires, leaving the unpaid firefighters of the county’s volunteer fire departments in their beds when possible. No action was taken pending a review of the proposed contract by the county attorney, Robin Rogers (right).

The county commission meets on the first Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. in the county Administrative Building. The public is welcome.

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